Thursday, December 11, 2008

An environmental book list for the holidays

An environmental book list for the holidays

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As I put together Environmental Almanac from week to week I have the opportunity to interact with many thoughtful, generous people who are motivated by a wide range of environmental interests. For this week’s column, I asked some of them for thoughts on a list of books that readers might want to give as gifts or add to their own reading lists.

Judy Miller, environmental program manager with the Urbana Park District suggested two books that highlight a child’s perspective on the natural world: Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne “because it is just plain fun to read and the perfect example of how a four-year-old thinks and interacts with nature,” and A Sense of Wonder by Rachel Carson, which Miller said, “reminds us what it is like to be a child experiencing nature for the first time.”

Robert McKim, a philosopher and head of the UI Department of Religion, recommended Daniel Quinn's 1992 novel, Ishmael. McKim called “Ishmael” “challenging, thought-provoking, wise, not at all heavy-handed, and a really enjoyable read.” Further, he noted, “It raises important questions about how we ought to think of our relationship to the other species with whom we share this planet.”

Jamie Ellis, a botanist with the Illinois Natural History Survey and board president of Grand Prairie Friends, suggested a work of nonfiction, Heartsblood: Hunting, Spirituality and Wildness in America. This book, by David Petersen, a takes a critical look at hunting today. Ellis said, “I feel that hunting brings me closer to the nature I want to protect and conserve, and this book provides the philosophy and thought behind my feelings about hunting.”

The staff at Prairie Rivers Network collaborated to recommend The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert by Craig Childs, which they describe as “an adventurous and poetic journal of a back-country guide’s treks through the water-shaped desert.” They also suggested, Staying Put: Settling Down in a Restless World, by Indiana writer Scott Russell Sanders,” which is concerned with the importance of putting down roots and of attachments to specific places.

Chris Phillips, a herpetologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey and UI faculty affiliate, suggested two books about the work of biologists in the field: Mean and Lowly Things: Snakes, Science, and Survival in the Congo, by contemporary herpetologist, Kate Jackson, and Into the Jungle: Great Adventures in the Search for Evolution, which tells the stories of earlier naturalists whose work provided the foundation for our scientific understanding of life on earth.

Cynthia Hoyle, a transportation planning consultant with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District recommended Edens Lost & Found: How Ordinary Citizens are Restoring Our Great American Cities, by Harry Wiland and Dale Bell. This book, which is a companion to a PBS series available on DVD, tells the inspiring stories of how ordinary people have worked together to heal the Earth and bring hope and opportunity to our inner cities by uncovering and restoring the beauty of nature.

May Berenbaum, head of the UI Department of Entomology, and a leader in the ongoing, international effort to understand dramatic declines in honey bees, recommended a new book on that topic by Rowan Jacobsen called Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honey Bee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis.

Finally, if you could use a break from shopping and reading you might want to check out Hotspots, a new film that will air on public television nextweek. It provides a global perspective on the current wave of plant and animal extinction, so it won’t be a pick-me-up, but it promises a view that includes hope for the future.